Vietnamese jailed for wearing uniform of former army

Hanoi (AFP) - A Vietnamese court jailed a man for 15 months Monday, a court clerk said, for wearing the army uniform of the former South Vietnam regime, which fought a bitter war against the communist north.

Nguyen Viet Dung, 29, from central Nghe An province, was charged with "disturbing public disorder" and found guilty after a half-day trial at a district court in Hanoi, a court clerk told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Dung wore the uniform during a demonstration in Hanoi in April over a plan by city authorities - later shelved after a strong public backlash - to cut down hundreds of trees across the capital.

Dung was the only one of hundreds of demonstrators, who mobilised using Facebook and attracted widespread support from Vietnam's emerging urban middle class, to be put on trial.

"It was only because he wore the uniform of the Republican Army, and he was behind the establishment of a group in support of that army," Dung's lawyer Vo An Don told AFP.

The Republican Army was the army of the US-backed Saigon regime defeated by communist troops in April 1975.

"This case is politically sensitive. I do not agree with this sentence... Dung is innocent," Don said, adding that Dung, who is in poor health, did not say a word in court.

Dung was arrested in April and has been in detention since then.

Police and other security officials blocked streets around the court Monday and kept protesters and onlookers away from the building.

But several dozen demonstrators waving signs proclaiming Dung's innocence gathered near the court, urging his released.

Vietnam's communist one-party state is regularly denounced by rights groups and Western governments for its hardline stance on human rights.

Authorities are notorious for using several vaguely worded provisions of the penal code to jail activists and regime critics.